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Google Maps goes offline on Android, plus 3D cityscapes

Google Maps on Android is allowing you to use maps without data charges. Plus Google is strapping cameras to hikers -- and aeroplanes.

Google Maps is getting a handy Android update, allowing you to use maps without running up data charges. Oh, and Google is strapping cameras to hikers and aeroplanes.

All good stuff as Apple reportedly prepares to drop Google Maps from the iPhone and iPad next week. Rumour has it that the company is expected to unveil its own maps app with 3D landscapes, real-time traffic updates and turn-by-turn navigation on Monday, so Google has hit back with offline maps for Android and new 3D excitement. Keep reading to have all your questions answered:

How does offline Google Maps work?

Simple: just pick a city or area and download the full map to your phone. Then you'll be able to use the map wherever and whenever, without incurring a data cost. Your phone's built-in compass and GPS will show where you are on the downloaded map.

Do I need a 3G or Wi-Fi signal?

To download the map, yes. But once it's cached, or saved, on your phone, you don't need a signal. That means you can go abroad and still find your way round the rues, autobahns and piazzas without a signal, and without having to pay for data. It also works in areas where data signal is patchy or non-existent, like rural areas or on the tube.

How big is the download?

That depends on the area you're caching, but Google will tell you before the download starts so you don't go over your limit.

Can't I cache maps already?

There's an experimental Labs add-on that lets you cache maps around a selected point, but it's pretty fiddly. This new offline feature is built-in and makes it much easier.

Can I use it on my phone?

If you have an Android phone, yes. No offline love for the iPhone, though.

Can other phones do that?

Windows Phone can, with the Nokia Drive app. The iPhone can't, although that may change if Apple does indeed introduce its own map.

What if a map is wrong?

Google is extending its Map Maker corrections service to South Africa and Egypt, with Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland set to benefit in coming weeks.

What else is new?

Having sent its Street View patrol cars out to capture panoramic views of our streets and houses, Google is dispatching Street View Trekkers into the wilderness: hikers with 15-lens, 46 megapixel cameras on their heads who will extend the Street View experience to areas you can only access by foot.

Take a hike! Anything else?

I'll tell you what else is new: aeroplanes. Just as Google cars patrol the streets, Google planes are flying round cities filming things. The results will be 3D views in Google Earth, allowing you to circle around whole cityscapes -- instead of the previously available individually rendered landmarks -- as if you were flying up there yourself. Wrap your brainpipes around that.

Maybe it'll be easier if you watch this handy Google video:

What do you think of the new Google maps features? Can Apple top Google Maps? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.